Gordon Campbell on Biden v Trump, and the Taiwan election

bidenandtrumpthumbIf the allegations against Golriz Ghahraman are found to have substance – or even if they merely result in an official Police investigation – then resignation looks the only option. The Greens brand is based on its claims to hold itself to a higher set of values, a fact now being reflected in some of the gleeful schadenfreude evident on social media about the incident.

The perception of wrong-doing is already doing harm to the Greens, regardless of whether the shoplifting allegation is proven to have substance. At this interim stage a resignation might be taken as an admission of guilt, with implications for criminal liability. Yet whatever happens from here on, Ghahraman’s political career looks to be irretrievably damaged.

Neither Biden or Trump

It is ten months until the next US presidential election and most Americans don’t seem to want either Joe Biden or Donald Trump as their next President. According to the 538 polling website as of Tuesday this week, 56.4% of Americans disapprove of Biden‘s performance as President while only 39.1% approve, and that gap is widening.

At the same time, 52% of Americans have an unfavourable perception of Trump, and only 42.9% have a favourable view of him. Yet that 9.1% negativity gap has narrowed from the 17% negative perception gap that existed in the last week of August 2023. So much for hopes that Trump’s legal worries would make Americans turn away from him. This new development in Georgia can only boost the morale of Trump’s legal team.

If US voters are forced to choose between this widely unloved pair, the recent polling generally shows Trump ahead by margins of 3%, 8% or even 12% – while a couple of other polls show them even, and one even has Biden ahead by 1%. To compound this mixture of confusion and disdain, one poll has Republican contender Nikki Haley comfortably beating Biden, while another has Democratic Michigan governor Gretchen Whittmer beating Trump by four points. The Whittmer result (even though in a poll taken in Michigan) is a useful reminder that the Democrats have always had viable alternatives to Biden. Unfortunately, they have never given them the oxygen.

A minimum of 270 Electoral College votes is required to win the presidency, and on 538’s summary of current polling the Republicans have 235 votes locked in compared to 226 for the Democrats, with 77 votes up for grabs in states currently too close to call. These swing states include Georgia, Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Nevada and Arizona. To put that another way: The Republicans need only add Pennsylvania and Georgia to their current tally to put Trump back in the White House. Winning Michigan, Georgia and Nevada would also do the trick.

The huge negatives for Biden are occurring at a time when the economy is reportedly bouncing back from the cusp of recession, when interest rate cuts are on the horizon, while job growth is occurring and there is relatively low unemployment. In a pattern that will be familiar to many New Zealanders, none of the Biden achievements are being recognised by voters out in the heartland. As the economist Paul Krugman says in his NYT column this week: “…Much of what looks like poor public perception about the economy is actually just Republicans angry that Donald Trump isn’t still President.”

Last year, much the same effect was evident here. Farmer confidence and business confidence surveys for instance, became something of an ideology-driven joke. Meaning: Business confidence is always plummeting under a Labour Party PM and always buoyant when there is a National Party PM. People who say that the left needs to communicate their achievements “better” simply don’t understand how ingrained these sentiments are, and how immune they are to rational argument.

As a result, voters have installed a National-led administration, because many voters think National to be the natural party of government, and blessed with inherent knowledge about how to run the economy. These beliefs are not responsive to evidence. The current government will do an objectively worse job of future-proofing this country and its economy, and yet public faith in its magic powers will probably remain unshaken. Much as we may laugh at Americans and shake our heads at Trump, we’re really not all that different.

Here’s another similarity. When political change occurs in the US – whether that be a change in the party holding the presidency or the balance of power in the Senate and Congress – there tends to be a wholesale change of personnel and policy. Despite the campaign rhetoric, New Zealand has usually managed a fair degree of continuity between National and Labour administrations.

Not this time, though. The incoming government is carrying out a policy purge on a scale not seen in this country for nearly 40 years. Years of research and policy formation are being binned on principle, often before any replacement policy has been conceived. It is happening with RMA reform, health reform, labour relations policy, climate change policy, race relations, the funding for the replacement ferries etc etc.

Weirdly, the situation that existed six years ago is being taken as the ideal norm. If the policy didn’t exist – or if funding and public service staffing levels were bigger than what existed in 2017 – then that is to be regarded as being wrong and wasteful, regardless of public need and regardless of the population growth or demographic changes that have occurred since 2017, when the last centre-right government was in power. This wholesale change for ideology’s sake is all very American, and in the worst possible way.

Reckoning Day, Taiwan

On Saturday, Taiwan goes to the polls in an election that will determine the relationship between Taiwan and mainland China. That relationship has been the key theme of the campaign. The incumbent Democratic Progressive Party (or DPP) is standing as the champion of continued independence from China. The two main opposition parties – namely, the older, elitist Kuomintang (KMT) and the maverick Taiwan Peoples Party (TPP) have both been calling for a more ‘constructive” dialogue with Beijing.

Just what the Kuomintang and TPP have in mind remains totally unclear. Neither party has clarified whether and how their promised new relationship with mainland China would differ from what has happened in Hong Kong. The two opposition parties have repeatedly fudged this issue.

Even so, if the KMT and TPP had been able to run on a coherent joint ticket they would have prevailed. But spectacularly, this unity has failed to materialise. In November, the KMT and TPP held a joint media gathering that was meant to demonstrate how well they could work together. Alas, the meeting quickly turned into a push-and-shove and shouting match in front of the cameras over who should be President and who should be vice-President.

The DPP candidate is the current vice-president Lai Ching-te. In a break with an ambiguous tradition, US President Joe Biden has openly pledged US military support for Taiwan if China invades, but that commitment would probably not survive the re-election of an isolationist like Donald Trump. Nor, for that matter, would Biden’s recent re-engagement of the US with the Pacific survive.

For obvious reasons, China staunchly opposes a DPP victory on Saturday. China’s hostility has caused the DPP to be labelled on the campaign trail as the “pro war” party. Young voters have flocked to the TPP, even though the virtual extinction of democracy in Hong Kong hardly provides a happy model for what a more “constructive” dialogue and “unity” with mainland China might eventually look like.

For presidential elections, Taiwan operates a first past the post voting system. For Saturday’s elections to the l13 member legislature, there is a varied mix of first past the post (73 members) and STV (6 members) while the remaining 34 seats are elected via a proportional representation system. Under Taiwan’s election rules, no opinion polls can be published in the last 10 days of the campaign.

In the last available polls on January 1st, the DPP candidate Lai was on 36, Hou Yu-ih of the KMT was on 31, and Ko Wen-Je of the TPP was on 24, with the TPP support dropping away slightly in favour of both its two bigger rivals. China. The US., and the rest of the world have a lot riding on Saturday’s outcome.

Family functions and dysfunctions

For the past 14 years, the Idaho musician Trevor Powers has explored a whole array of indie//ambient/dream pop/Americana/post punk forms of music. Finally last year, Powers took his Youth Lagoon project in a quiet, enigmatically melancholy direction on the group’s 2023 album Heaven is a Junkyard. The album made many “best of 2023” lists, and rightly so.

Here’s the opening lyrics for that album’s standout cut “Idaho Alien.”…

Billy come home and Billy don’t stop

Daddy come home and Daddy don’t talk

Radio hides a shitty old cop

Maybe I’m high and maybe I’m not

There was sadness coming through to you

Wonder how I caught it…

A couple of weeks ago, Youth Lagoon released a new single called “Football.” Just another mesmerising slice of personal and family dysfunction for the holiday season ….

Correction: In Monday’s column I mis-labelled (as the ICC) the International Court of Justice that this week, will begin hearing oral submissions on South Africa’s genocide case against Israel, over its actions in Gaza. The correct link for the 84 page South African document can be found here. The ICJ public hearings, begin 10am today ( Thursday, The Hague time ) and there are links here as to where those ICJ hearings can be followed live.